Errors in your credit report are discouragingly common. In a recent research by Consumer Reports asking volunteers to verify their credit reports, 34% found at least one error. And these errors were mostly debts wrongly attributed to them, payments that were misreported as late or missed, or inaccurate personal information (such as a wrong address).
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Such errors can seriously affect your credit score and tarnish your credit report for up to seven years. And a lower credit score can increase the rate you pay for auto insurance, the interest on a loan or credit card, and even prevent you from buying a home. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of your credit report and dispute any errors that could affect your credit.. Here’s how to do it.
Start viewing your credit report
To get started, you’ll need yourto catch any errors. There are three major credit bureaus, each with its own report: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You should get a credit report from all three as they all collect information in their own way.
Although the credit bureaus can charge you for a credit report, under federal law you can get your credit reports for free once a year annualcreditreport.com. Even better, temporary changes to federal law allow you to obtain up to six free credit reports per year through 2026 through the Equifax website. Andas the pandemic continues.
To access your reports, make sure you have your Social Security number ready and follow the steps outlined on the website. You can view or download them directly from the site so you can read them carefully for errors.
Common Mistakes That Can Affect Your Credit Score
By reviewing your credit report, you can check for identity theft and discover items that could lower your score. Not all errors in your report. Some items, such as an outdated phone number, are not worth contesting.
Items that can lower your credit score and are worth contesting include:
- Credit accounts you don’t recognize
- Incorrect account statuses, such as an invoice reported as overdue or an account in direct debits when you have always paid on time
- Derogatory brands older than seven years
- Addresses you don’t recognize
- An ex-spouse who is registered on a current account
- Incorrect balances or credit limits
If you identify any of these errors, disputing them may be the next step to remove them from your report so you can see an increase in your credit score.
Collect documentation for your dispute
If you find errors in your credit report, the more supporting evidence you have, the higher your chances of the errors being rejected. You must submit a letter explaining why you believe the information in your report is incorrect and provide evidence. In addition to the explanation, you may need a copy of your driver’s license or passport to verify your identity.
Submit your dispute
Filing a dispute is free and will not hurt your score. According to the Fair Credit Reporting ActOnce you have filed a dispute with a credit reporting agency, that agency must update the account to show that there is a dispute. You may see “XB” next to the item, indicating that the item is being disputed and under investigation. A disputed item cannot damage your creditworthiness while it is being investigated. If it resolves in your favor, you will see an improvement in your FICO over time. Otherwise, the score will drop again to show the negative number.
When drafting a letter of dispute, ask the credit institution to correct or remove the incorrect information. Include the following points:
- Credit Report ID Number
- Your full name
- Date of birth
- Proof of identity, such as a copy of your driver’s license
- Company name and address for the wrong item
- A copy of the incorrect item(s) on the report
- Explanation why the article is incorrect
- A list of additional supporting documents attached
- Copies of the supporting documents showing why the item is incorrect, such as a copy of the canceled check showing the date paid
To dispute an item, follow the steps for the specific credit reporting agency:
- Online: ai.equifax.com/CreditInvestigation
- By phone: (800) 864-2978
Equifax Information Services LLC
PO Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
- Online: experian.com/disputes/main.html
- By phone: (888) 397-3742
PO Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
If there are errors in more than one report, repeat the same process for each credit bureau and ask them to correct or remove the erroneous information.
Contact your account provider
You can also contact the account provider, such as the credit card company, lender, or utility company, that initiated the negative or incorrect mark on your credit report. Notifying them of the dispute can speed up the process, especially if the item is incorrect. It is best to have everything in writing so that you can track your efforts. Consult this sample letter as an example of what to write.
How long does the dispute process take?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to investigate and resolve a dispute within 30 days, although some investigations can take up to 45 days. Filing a complaint online is the fastest way to start a dispute.
View your dispute resolution
Once the investigation has been completed, you will receive the results in writing. If the agency confirms that there is an error in your report, it will remove or correct the information and provide an updated copy of your credit report free of charge.
Beware of credit repair scams
Filing a dispute is not a complicated process. Disputes are free and the credit reporting agencies must follow strict federal regulations for your protection. However, there are credit repair companies that prey on people by promising to remove derogatory information and charging high fees for it. These companies have no more power to modify your credit report for free than you could.
That said, if you’d rather hire a credit repair company to handle disputes on your behalf, we recommend that you do a thorough vetting of the company before paying them a dime.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if a number on my credit report is negative but accurate?
If a mark on your credit report is correct, a credit bureau cannot remove it. You can try contacting the company that issued it, asking to remove the mark as a courtesy. For example, if you paid late once and paid on time for years, a credit card company may be willing to look past this error. However, companies are not obliged to remove factual information.
How long will a deviating figure remain on my credit report?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act limits derogatory figures on your credit report to seven years. If there are marks on your credit report that are older than seven years, you can dispute them to have them removed.
Will Disputes Hurt My Credit Score?
Disputes will don’t hurt your credit score. In fact, they can temporarily improve it, as the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that items under investigation cannot hurt your credit. However, if the disputed item is correct, you will likely see a drop when the negative item reappears.